Good, standalone tower defense games are extremely hard to come by these days. Not since the days of StarCraft and Sunken Tower Defense have I really enjoyed creating vicious and cunning mazes of death. Until now that is. Sanctum is just about everything you could want in a tower defense, plus it has some interesting tricks up its sleeve.
Sanctum is probably best thought of as a first person shooter blended up with a generous spoonful of real time strategy. The player takes the form of a nameless avatar equipped with three weapons: an assault rifle, a sniper rifle and a freeze gun. This arsenal, plus a myriad of stationary towers arranged into a formidable maze of death, is all that stands between the player and certain destruction. Sort of. The goal of the game isn’t really laid out other than “Don’t let monsters get to this point.” But that’s good enough for the StarCraft Tower Defense generation, and damned if it isn’t good enough for us too.
The tower defense element of Sanctum is very basic, while still being deep enough to be enjoyable. Towers can only be built on top of blocks, and blocks can only be built on designated blue squares. There is a certain element of mazing involved, but the maps are structured in such a way that it’s more blocking than mazing. Putting a block down to bar enemies from taking a certain path and forcing them to enjoy the scenic route is the standard strategy for most levels. Occasionally a level will simply be a grid of building squares but the blocks are so big compared to the units that only basic mazing strategies can be used. If Sanctum falls short anywhere, it’s here. My fondest memories of tower defenses all involve incredibly complex mazes but unfortunately there’s no room for them in Sanctum.
As with most tower defense games, Sanctum comes equipped with a few varieties of towers that can be upgraded to increase their damage and range. Also common to many other tower defenses are varying enemy types, and while Sanctum certainly does have varying enemy types, they’re anything but common. Instead of resorting to using different tower damage and enemy armor types that tediously need to be matched up, the distinctiveness of Sanctum’s enemies come from their sizes and movement speeds. Each enemy also has a weak spot that the player can shoot for extra damage.
The first person shooter aspect of Sanctum is pretty basic, but it almost feels like it needs a level of simplicity, what with the player having to simultaneously manage their towers. The same currency that is used to build and upgrade towers can also be invested in the player’s firearms to power them up. The player needs to level up their weapons at some point, or else the game becomes almost impossible.
Sanctum is a pretty fun game. In addition to the single player missions there’s also a cooperative multiplayer component and a whole list of achievements to be… achieved. It will only run you $14.99 on Steam, so if you have any interest in the tower defense genre, Sanctum is definitely worth a look.